A computer measures and calculates how much product can be made from each log at the Hampton Mill. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

A computer measures and calculates how much product can be made from each log at the Hampton Mill. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

To stay afloat, Darrington mill needs more public timber

But lots of state land is off limits as DNR works on a conservation plan for the marbled murrelet.

DARRINGTON — The sticky sweet smell of freshly cut Douglas fir and Hemlock trees filled the air Thursday as boards destined for Home Depots and construction sites shot out of the Hampton Lumber Mill on a forest-green conveyor belt.

Set in the shadow of Whitehorse Mountain, the Darrington mill uses about 100 truckloads of logs a day. It’s the town’s single largest employer, with 125 of its 170 employees calling the area home.

Right now, the mill is operating at 75% capacity. That’s because there aren’t enough logs coming in for the mill to run full-force, CEO Steve Zika said.

The number of private timber owners with trees the appropriate age for harvesting — 50 to 60 years old — are dwindling. At the same time, Zika said regulatory hold-ups are preventing the mill from purchasing enough timber off public lands.

More than half the mill’s logs come from state Department of Natural Resources land, with a small fraction from national forests. But to stay open, Zika said, the company will have to increase its public sourcing to about 70%.

Hampton Lumber CEO Steve Zika talks about the need for more trees for the mill before Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz visits the Hampton Mill on Thursday in Darrington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Hampton Lumber CEO Steve Zika talks about the need for more trees for the mill before Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz visits the Hampton Mill on Thursday in Darrington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Every decade, the Department of Natural Resources passes a Sustainable Harvest Calculation, the volume of timber to be sold from DNR lands over a 10-year period.

Policymakers are in the throes of passing a new calculation, and Hampton is making its case for more access.

The number of sales were cut short during the past 10-year period, state Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said. She paid a visit to the Darrington mill Thursday.

More than 175,000 acres of DNR land have been locked out of harvest as the department works on a conservation plan for the marbled murrelet, a threatened bird species that nests in large conifer trees.

The next harvest calculation can’t be passed until the plan is complete. It should be finished by the end of this year, Franz said.

Right now, the Hampton mill buys about $25 million of timber from the DNR annually, Zika said. That generates $6 million for Snohomish County schools and services per year, DNR communications director Carlo Davis said.

Jessica Ward runs a stacker at Hampton Mill on Thursday in Darrington. The mill is asking for more trees from Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Jessica Ward runs a stacker at Hampton Mill on Thursday in Darrington. The mill is asking for more trees from Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

To keep the mill going, Zika said they need to purchase more timber from DNR land to balance out the decrease in private harvests.

But he’s worried they may get less access in the next plan.

“It’s so critical with our mill up here,” Zika said. “That’s what we just want to express … our desperate nature in terms of that timber supply as we move forward.”

As talks continue for a new sustainable harvest plan, Franz said there are a number of competing interests.

Chiefly, lawmakers are working to protect critical marbled murrelet habitat while also providing enough timber sales to fund schools and services, keep businesses like Hampton mills afloat and maintain forestland to prevent wildfire.

“It surprises me how much there’s this tension between the environment and timber and the economy,” Franz said. “When honestly they really are, and should more than anything else in our state other than maybe agriculture, be working collectively together.”

Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; jgsanders@heraldnet.com.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Maryville Getchell High School students Madison Dawson, left, Kaden Vongsa and Jenasis Lee, who made a presentation to their school board discussing mental health, lack of resources and personal stories of their peers mental health struggles. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Students plead for better mental health support from schools

Three Marysville Getchell seniors want more counselors and improved training for staff.

Parked tractor-trailers line the side of 40th Avenue NE on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021 in Marysville, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Worker wonders why dead end Marysville road is rough and rutty

A stretch of 40th Avenue NE is mostly used for heavy trucking and isn’t in line for repairs soon.

Camano Island shooting leaves father dead; son arrested

Dominic Wagstaff, 21, was taken into custody late Sunday for investigation of the murder of Dean Wagstaff, 41.

Jean Shumate (left), seen here during a February 2019 school board meeting, will retire June 30 after 20 years at the Stanwood-Camano School District superintendent. (Skagit Valley Herald)
Stanwood-Camano superintendent to retire after 20 years

Jean Shumate has been at the helm longer than any other superintendent in Snohomish County.

An access road leads into plot of land located in north Darrington that could potentially be used to build a 30-acre Wood Innovation Center, which will house CLT manufacturing and modular building companies on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021 in Darrington, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
$6 million grant is green light for Darrington timber center

The Darrington Wood Innovation Center is set to become a reality — bringing roughly 150 jobs with it.

Two charged in Seattle shooting death of Camano Island teen

A stolen pair of Air Force 1 sneakers may be connected to the killing, according to the charges.

Lilliana (Lilli) Broce
Edmonds Rotary honors Meadowdale junior

Edmonds Rotary honors Meadowdale junior The Rotary Club of Edmonds has honored… Continue reading

A screenshot of a Washington State Bar Association letter responding to a grievance filed against lawyer Michelle L. Rutherford.
Excoriated by judge, prosecutor not punished by boss or bar

Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell disagreed with a judge’s 214-page critique of his employee.

A Marysville Pilchuck football player sports a spear on his helmet as the Tomahawks took on Snohomish in the Wesco 3A Championship Friday evening at Quil Ceda Stadium on November 1, 2019. School district leaders may soon need to consider dropping Marysville Pilchuck High School’s mascot, the Tomahawks. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Should Marysville Pilchuck High drop the name ‘Tomahawks’?

A state bill would ban Native American mascots and symbols from schools — unless there is tribal permission.

Most Read